Transit: what happened to the vision of serving the public?

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"Our Transit drivers are the best social workers in the county." I've heard that very accurate statement many times in one form or another. Most of our drivers don't just get you from point A to point B; they've been known to advocate in ways great and small for those on the edges of society, for the homeless and mentally ill among their regular clientele. But what is among the first requirements for social order and civilization? Sanitation. At both ends of the organism, so to speak. Clean water to drink and a place to eliminate wastes of all kinds. The hygiene advocacy group PHLUSH spells it out in their name: Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (http://www.phlush.org/).

The SEPA Environmental Determination (Environmental Determination 9406-0 8(S) August 24, 1994) that allowed the building of our Park & Ride, signed by the City and Transit, required that Transit provide access to restroom facilities to avoid impacting the adjacent nature park with overuse of its aging (and now closed) facilities by Transit users. During major events JTA would be required to provide a restroom of some sort, such as a portjohn, as mitigation to get approval for building the Park & Ride. Transit also made arrangements for the Transit-using public to access the restrooms at Safeway and McDonald's.

Then the City built the structure at the Park & Ride for the Visitors' Center. When the Visitors' Center closed its restroom doors to the public during Wooden Boat 2014, it was pointed out to the Transit manager that the Environmental Determination they signed in 1994 required restroom access, which in 1994 was anticipated in the form of portajohns since there was no building on the property. Lo and behold, a portajohn appeared. When Jefferson Transit Authority purchased the building at the Park & Ride, the Transit manager affirmed that the restrooms in the building would be available to the public because they belonged to the public. (http://www.ptleader.com/blogs/paper_trails/everybody-does-it---somewhere/article_c3e9a728-3206-11e4-9492-101f742c1d2e.html).

When JTA moved into the building, the facility quit being a mere Park & Ride and became a transit hub. But when JTA moved in to the building, the public was shortly excluded from use of either of the two restrooms, for several fairly flimsy reasons.

The first was that the desk person felt uncomfortable with 'certain' people coming into the building to use the restroom and sometimes spending inordinate amounts of time in them, trying to bathe in the sinks. When building modifications were suggested that would allow entry and exit from an exterior door, they were dismissed, with a new 'reason' provided.

'The building was not built to proper standards', we were told, it would just fall apart if it saw much use by the public. But the City sold it to JTA with the factual information that the building was constructed to the commercial standards of much larger jurisdictions and should certainly tolerate public use.

Since Transit moved in to the building, restrooms at our Transit hub have been an ongoing issue. Now, three years later, nothing has been solved, and instead, any notion of restrooms for the public vanished from the draft of Transit's six-year transportation plan. Extensive and critical public comments at the public hearing for that plan managed to get the word 'restroom' re-inserted into the plan - in a wish list in the Appendix. At a second public hearing, JTA board members requested that a restroom be added into the plan in places with some teeth, not on a wish list but under budgeted items.

But we still come back to Washington Administrative Code (WAC 51-50-2900), which requires that transit hubs have restroom facilities with hot and cold running water for hand sanitation. The latest bogus argument against that code is that transit authorities are only required to follow it when building new buildings. But when they bought the building, it was ostensibly a 'new' building as far as its new use was concerned and should therefore be required to be compliant or be brought into compliance. While it started out compliant with the WAC, it was promptly rendered non-compliant by closing the restrooms to the public. Consequently, it would seem that Transit's responsibility is to return the building to its formerly compliant state, providing proper bathrooms to the Transit-using public.

This is not a matter of money. Transit revenues are quite substantial from the tax most of us voted for in 2011. Transit is buying all sorts of bells and whistles: parking lot vacuums, ladder equipment to change light bulbs, striping and paving the Park & Ride, adding new buses and staff. But that tax was predicated on the promise of saving Sunday service and increasing other services. Anybody seen any Sunday service? In fact, we are once again up against Wooden Boat Festival and Transit refuses to provide Sunday service to the festival. We're also down about 150 hours per week of on the road service compared to prior Transit administrations.

This is not an issue of social niceties. The city of San Diego is now battling the largest outbreak of hepatitis A in the US in years, with more than a dozen deaths amid hundreds of hospitalizations (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/03/548299633/san-diego-declares-health-emergency-amid-hepatitis-a-outbreak; https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/28/hepatitis-a-san-diego-deaths). The illness is spread primarily by not having access to handwashing facilities. It is prevalent in but not unique to the homeless population. Do we need this sort of disaster on our hands before those agencies that are required to provide restrooms with handwashing facilities comply with the law?

We are now apparently the third oldest county in the US. That means we also have the third oldest set of bladders in the US. If we want public transportation to thrive in our county, we need some serious vision correction. And a place to empty those old bladders and wash those old hands quickly and conveniently between buses.

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